Monday, April 23, 2007


X-Men: The Return

This past weekend I discovered that X-Men: The Return is on shelves now in bookstores and comic shops all over. How about that?

The project was a dream come true. Getting to write characters I grew up reading, edited by my good friend Jennifer Heddle, and with a cover by John Picacio. I got to spend a few weeks reading comics, crack my knuckles, and pound out a novel pulp-style (I ended up writing the book in thirteen days over the course of two weeks and two days, taking a weekend off in the middle to attend a convention). Hugely satisfying. In the process, I gained real respect for the work of Chris Claremont, who wrote all of those terrific X-Men stories I grew up on (as well as great work in Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up, Ms Marvel, New Mutants, and a dozen other titles besides); I don't remember who I'd originally intended to dedicate the book to, but by the time I started writing, it could only have been dedicated to Claremont.

The book slots in neatly to the X-Men continuity in the late 80s, just before things got really strange, and addresses one of my favorite dangling plot threads: Bermuda Island, a forgotten city built by a Cthuloid pre-human culture that Magneto yanked up from the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle, and which the X-Men used as their headquarters for about fifteen minutes. The Return explains just who built the city, and when, and recounts what happens when they come back from a long vacation and find that their housepets have taken over the whole damned planet.

I wrote an Author's Note for the book, but the version that ended up getting printed was trimmed a bit for space. Here's the full text of it, with all of my irrelevant rambles included.
Author's Note

I’ve been researching this novel for the last twenty-five years.

I was a DC Comics kid. My favorites were Superman, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. I suppose the science fiction aspects of all three titles appealed to me, and the breadth and depth of their respective mythologies.

Then, in September, 1981, I happened to pick up a copy of The Uncanny X-Men #152 off the stand at my local comic book shop. I’d just turned eleven years old, was only a few weeks into the sixth grade, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Looking back, I’m not sure what spurred me to pick it up. I think I may have seen an ad for the title in one of Marvel’s Star Wars comics (science fiction, again), showing the original X-Men posed next to the “new” X-Men, with Cyclops and Professor X in the middle, bridging the gap. The strange looking characters had fascinated me, and I remember distinctly wondering just what the heck they were all about.

Reading that issue for the first time, I had no idea who anybody was. To complicate matters, it was the second part of a two part story, in which Kitty Pryde had been sent away to attend the Massachusetts Academy by her mind-controlled parents, Emma Frost had switched bodies with Storm, and the Hellfire Club had made prisoners of all the X-Men inside the Xavier Mansion. So the story begins with Kitty and a blonde haired telepath claiming to be Ororo Munroe on the run, while a white haired African woman claiming to be the White Queen swans around with Sebastian Shaw. I was confusion, incarnate, but it didn’t matter. These were mysteries to be solved, questions to be puzzled out. I was deeply, madly in love with Kitty Pryde, and wished I were one of the X-Men, too.

In the months that followed, I bought all of the back issues I could lay my hands on. I traded the paltry few Spider-Man comics I had for the Claremont-Byrne X-Men my friend Chris Cannon had in his collection, including the landmark “Days of Future Past” two-parter. The next year, the two volume X-Men Companion series, edited by Peter Sanderson and published by Fantagraphics Books, provided an invaluable roadmap to the history of the characters, featuring interviews with all of the creators who’d worked on the series from Roy Thomas forward. Then I chanced upon a reprint of Giant Sized X-Men #1, reformatted as a mass market paperback, and my education was nearly complete. By the time Marvel produced a trade paperback collection of the whole danged Dark Phoenix storyline, a year or so later, I was an expert.

For most of the 80s, I bought every comic featuring the X-Men I could lay hands on. Every one-shot, every graphic novel, every spin-off, miniseries, crossover, and guest appearance. And nearly all of them written by one man: Chris Claremont. Along with his cocreators, most notably Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita, Jr., Bob McLeod, and Bill Sienkiewicz, Claremont was responsible for an inordinate amount of my reading material during junior high and high school, and between his X-Men and Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes, I imagine that I spent more time thinking about super-heroes and their fictional worlds than I did anything I was supposedly studying in class.

These last few years, having been away for some time, in the aisles of Austin Books I’ve been reintroduced to the X-Men through the talents of people like Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, Grant Morrison, and Frank Quitely. These were guys who clearly read all the same comics I did as a kid, and their takes on the X-Men reminded me of what I so loved about the characters in the first place. I dug up my old back issues, picked up the fantastic Essential compilations that Marvel has been producing, and fell in love with the X-Men all over again.

I am incredibly grateful to Pocket Books and Marvel for allowing me the opportunity to dive back into the world of the X-Men again, if only briefly, and to my friend and editor Jennifer Heddle for making it possible. The weeks and months I spent working on this project—and the grueling “research” involved in reading and rereading huge stacks of cherished comics—have given me a new appreciation for the care and attention that Claremont and his collaborators put into constructing the X-Men and the world they inhabit. Having the chance to write a story featuring characters whose adventures I’ve been enjoying for a quarter century has been a childhood ambition fulfilled, and seeing them brought so masterfully to life under the brush of my friend John Picacio for the cover has only served to make the experience that much better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few more stacks of “research” that I plan to enjoy before I’m done.
As you can see from the thumbnail above, the book has an absolutely gorgeous cover by my pal John Picacio, which makes it a shame that the book is likely to be spine-out in most stores. If you get a chance to turn them face out, as you roam through your local book store(s), by all means do so, to share the love.

Thanks, Win!
Chris Claremont's X-Men was a highlight of the series -- good choice for temporal placement. It's always interesting to see what SF writers do when doing prose novels of comic book heroes. John Shirley has done some fascinating Batman stuff. I recall that Ted White, one-time SF writer and editor of Fantastic, did a Captain America novel that crossed over with the world of Doc Savage by including the character of Monk Mayfair as a cameo.

Of course, that was long ago and far away and before Marvel killed off ol' Cap.
I was actually reading about White's Captain America a few weeks ago, over on Comics Should Be Good. Sounded worth checking out. I didn't know about the Mayfair cameo, though.

Officially, of course, there aren't any such crossovers in X-Men: The Return. It would be ridiculous to suggest such a thing, of course. However, if some of the villains look somewhat... familiar, then far be it from me to stifle the reader's own power of suggestion.
A sighting of The Return: Kroger in Huntsville.

You've made it into the supermarket trade.
Holy crow! Me and Umberto Eco, I guess. (I was really always baffled at what supermarket shoppers must have made of Foucault's Pendulum, if they happened to take it home with them.)
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